I am a big advocate for solo travel, even though I haven't done that much of it, I still consider myself a solo traveler. My very first long term international experience was an internship in London for 2 months back when I was a sophomore in college. There were a group of other students also, but I still went off and did a majority of exploring the city solo. Africa was also technically solo because after Ghana, I was pretty much on my own- in Tanzania, I didn't interact hardly at all with the other volunteers, going off to do my own thing. I did Zanzibar on my own, the safaris, everything. Once in South Africa, I literally was on my own. Even went as far as to rent an airbnb so I could get out of the volunteer hostel- let's just say I was completely over the hostel life and sharing my space by then. Needless to say, flying solo seems to be my natural inclination (don't get me wrong though, I still love travel with friends/family, my boyfriend). Anyhow, although I was solo for these trips, I've never gone somewhere international 100% solo without meeting anyone part of an organization once arrived. It's on my bucket list, and now I get to cross it off!
This trip was completely unintentional and unplanned. What happened? Well my good friend Shameka and I were supposed to go to a mindfulness retreat in Nicaragua from May 24th-28th. Long story short, the trip got pushed back to October due to political unrest and violence in the area we were to travel to. Although the retreat was rescheduled, we both opted to just get refunds. For Shameka, she had other obligations to focus on and for me, I wanted a refund since I am hoping to make it back to Ghana in November and October cuts it too close to those plans. However, I was not going to let the cost of the flight go to waste- the airline REFUSED to issue a refund and we did not purchase travel insurance. They also wanted to charge me nearly $300 just in penalty fees to get a credit to travel at a later date (without adding that $300 to the new flight- so basically I would pay almost $700 for a $370 flight; no bueno). What they did offer was a trip to Aruba with no extra fees. The catch? I had to travel before June 10th - the following week. I had already accepted that I was no longer traveling since Nicaragua got cancelled. So I felt it a bit rushed to try to go to Aruba within the next week. But, I decided it was better than to lose out on the entire cost of the flight with nothing to show for it. I asked Jimmy to come with, but he couldn't leave work during that week. Also, the ticket was nontransferable. I know a lot of people would have just not gone if their significant other or another friend couldn't go- but for me, it was a no brainer- I would just go solo. Why not? Spend four days on an island, be a beach bunny, relax, recharge my batteries. So I threw my passport in my carryon and all the bathing suits I own and hopped on the flight to Aruba this past Friday morning.
There is lots to do in Aruba- water excursions, Arikok National Park to explore, caves, and so much more. But since my budget is quite tight, I decided to spend my time dedicating each day to a new beach and spending majority of my money on food. The cool thing about Aruba is, it's a teeny tiny island. which means you can get from one place to another in minutes.Literally everywhere I've been has been less than an 8 minute drive. Initially, I planned to just bike ride everywhere. Well, that plan failed almost immediately. When I got in, I was eager to hop on the bike and ride into town. "This'll be great exercise", I thought. Wrong. Aruba really isn't a biking type of place. Sidewalks are scarce and the oncoming traffic is a bit- eccentric. I rode for about 20 minutes and found the whole ordeal so stressful that I turned around, rode back to my AirBnB, and decided to rent a car. Best decision for sure. I've been able to explore so much more and with ease- something I would not have been able to do with a bicycle. Needless to say, I HIGHLY recommend renting a car. It was pretty inexpensive too. $111.00 for 4 days. Once in my cute little rental car, I was off! Here's what I did with four days in Aruba:
Day 1 (Friday)
I got in to my AirBnB. The taxi ride was $30 from the airport. By the way, the entire island accepts US dollars which is convenient. The outside area of my AirBnB is super cute. I love the flower garden and little table outside my window.
After settling in for a bit, I embarked on that forsaken bike ride. After all the hoopla of that plus getting to the rental car place, I was starving- I hadn't eaten a real meal all day and it was already almost 5 o'clock. So I went to a seafood restaurant around the corner from the car rental. The food was just "ok." Wasn't impressed at all. Also it came to almost $30 with the strawberry daiquiri. That's another thing- food prices here are high! Since everything is imported, even fast food places are kinda pricey.
My favorite thing of the day was catching the sunset at this little rocky/beachy area- Boca Catalina Beach I believe. I was actually headed to visit the California Lighthouse but decided to stop when I saw the beauty of this area. So I parked my car, got out and took a stroll. Afterwords, I took a little drive through the neighborhood. It was beautiful. Nice houses and scenery. I imagine it's an area of expats and the wealthier of Aruba.
Day 2 (Saturday)
This morning, I woke up to the sounds of the Aruban breeze and birds chirping outside of my window. How peaceful. I made some coffee, journaled a bit, and then headed out to start my day. First stop was breakfast. I opted for The Dutch Pancake House, a popular place here. Aruba has huge Dutch influence so I had to try it out. (Fun Fact: Aruba has two official languages- Dutch and the local language Papiamento, a beautiful mixture of Dutch and Spanish. However, the average citizen here speaks a minimum of four languages. Many speak about 7 though. Incredible!). I ordered a Dutch pancake loaded with fresh fruit, blackberry jam, and powdered sugar. Plus a side of hash browns and of course a mimosa :)
Belly full, I decided to walk around for a bit to see what was around the town. Snapped some pics/selfies along the way too of course.
Next stop, the beach. I opted for Eagle Beach as it had a lot of great reviews. I was only a 4 minute drive from where I got breakfast. My poor little rental car got stuck in the sand (only me smh) but luckily, a group of guys nearby saw me and helped a sista out!
The beach was gorgeous! The water was clean and blue and clear. The sand was soft too but oh my Lord, that wind! I love lying on a towel or tapestry at the beach right under the sun rather than rent a chair. Well this decision landed me with a head full of sand (even now as I type this 2 showers and 3 hair washes later, I'm still finding sand on me). Still, it was a gorgeous day. I dozed off a bit, read a book, took in the scenery and of course snapped some pics.
After about 4 hours soaking up the sun and melanin poppin, I was ready to call it a day. I went back to my AirBnB, showered and took a little cat nap. I planned to go back out for a drink or something, but since this is my solo trip, I felt no pressure to constantly be doing something. So I picked up a pizza (remember I said food here is expensive? Breakfast came to $30 so I decided to play it cheap for dinner- but even a medium pizza was $20!!), went back and ate it with a couple glasses of wine, and chilled in bed for the rest of the night. It was the perfect day!
Day 3 (Sunday)
Today was pretty awesome! I got breakfast at Eduardo's Beach Shack. I found out about it through Pinterest. It's literally a very cute little shack selling smoothies, organic juices, acai bowls and vegan, and other healthy eats. I ordered the Raw Pitaya acai bowl loaded with fresh fruit and granola topped with coconut flakes. Yum. I found a nice spot to lounge on a chair under one of the little tiki huts. I ordered a drink, because drinking at 11am? Why not! That's what vacation is for (lol). Sipping on one of Aruba's signature drinks called "Aruba Ariba!" I pulled out my book again and prepared to sip, read, and relax. Not without snapping a few selfies though. But of course.
Before I even got settled in past the 2nd page of the book, a guy comes off a boat in front of me and offers to let me come on his boat. Uhhh. No thank you. I told him "How do I know you're not gonna kidnap me? Why would I come with you?." He then explained the he was actually on the clock at that moment and was working for one of the beach excursion companies. He then showed me the logo on his shirt which did match the logo of one of the tourist shacks offering all kinds of water sports. Plus, he was just saying that I could come on the boat while his friend rode people around who wanted to do the whole water ski thing. So I did it. I rode on the boat for hours, back and forth, just going along for the ride, every time a family or couple wanted to do the water float activity where a huge float is tied by rope to the back of the boat and they're dragged along as the boat goes faster and faster. Im telling you, it was amazing. Out there on the water, locs blowing freely and tasting the salty breeze as the boat sped on and on. I kept reminding myself "You are so blessed." I did feel really lucky to be able to have and savor those moments.
Obviously, I did NOT get kidnapped. I had a great time and got in some photos as well. Whoever said you should not trust strangers- you totally should -Just kidding. The key is just using caution, common sense, and your own gut intuition. I felt ok about the guys' intentions. They never tried a thing. Plus I had someone to do my photo ops :)
Tried to get some photos while on the boat. Was such a bumpy ride though, so not great quality, but "A" for effort at least. I indulged in all the views!
Day 4 (Monday)
My last full day in Aruba was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I met a girl at Eagle Beach who took my photos a couple days ago. She told me that she does mermaid photography and asked if I'd be interested in a photoshoot. Ummm of course. So we agreed to meet up on my last day at Boca Catalina Beach. I got up early and decided to finally make it to visit the lighthouse first. On the drive there, there were so many beautiful views that I kept stopping the car to get out and take pictures. One thing I found unique about Aruba's terrain is that it isn't only tropical. There's also desert too. Imagine seeing cacti on your left and palm trees on your right. I was in love.
Finally made it to the lighthouse. Climbed 100 and something stairs and I was the first person of the day to enter. You can see the whole island from the top. It's super windy as you can tell.
A beautifully quaint restaurant near the lighthouse with stunning views of the water and rest of the island down below. I didn't eat here - I decided to save it for next time as it's a perfect romantic spot to come back to with my someone special.
Afterwards, I excitedly drove back down the hill to Boca Catalina Beach to meet up with Leon who would be my photographer for the day. She was really nice and did a great job. She told me how she ended up in Aruba- her and her boyfriend are from The Netherlands. Her boyfriend got a one year contracted job offer in Aruba so she decided to join him for the adventure. She does the mermaid photoshoots to make some extra cash since she doesn't have a work permit here. Anyway, I think the photos came out pretty nice (some were taken on my phone as well). And she only charged me $40!
After the shoot, I decided to spend the rest of the day at Boca Catalina snorkeling, sunbathing, reading, and taking photos of the scenery. It was my favorite part of the trip. I wanted to stay there forever.
To end my night, I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner. I visited a newly opened restaurant called "Oak." Oh. My. God. The food was DELECTABLE. I literally still reminisce about this meal and rate it as one of the best meals and restaurant experiences I've ever had. Everything was perfect. The atmosphere, with dim lighting, small and quaint venue, soft Italian jazz playing. The customer service was outstanding. It was the perfect way to end such an amazing day. I took a window seat and got lost in my thoughts and memories of the past 4 days. I felt so incredibly grateful.
I ordered the Coconut Snapper- deep fried and served with a creamy coconut rum sauce. Two glasses of white wine and key lime pie for dessert - I usually never order dessert. But this was the perfect finishing touch. I ended up spending about two hours at dinner, eating mindfully and taking it all in before heading back to my AirBnB. .
The next morning before my flight, I went back to Eduardo's Beach Shack, now for the third time. I walked around for a bit, capturing any last memories I could.
As I looked out at the water one more time, I said a silent promise to myself - I absolutely WILL be back. Until next time Aruba!